Despite the recent advancements in recognizing diversity in lichen-forming fungi, assessing the timing of diversification remains largely unexplored in these important fungal symbionts. To better understand the evolutionary processes driving diversification in common lichen-forming fungi, we investigated the phylogeny and biogeography of the broadly distributed Melanelixia fuliginosa/M. glabratula group, using molecular data from six nuclear markers. Phylogenetic analyses of individual gene alignments and combined data provide strong evidence for five species-level lineages within this species complex. Three of these lineages correspond to the previously described species M. fuliginosa, M. glabratula, and M. subaurifera. The remaining two lineages, ‘M. sp. 1’ and ‘M. sp. 2’, merit species recognition based on genealogical concordance. Both M. glabratula and M. subaurifera had broad intercontinental distributions, sharing identical haplotypes among intercontinental populations. Based on the current sampling, M. fuliginosa s.s. was represented exclusively by European material and was not collected in North America. ‘M. sp. 1’ was represented by collections from Scotland and Spain; and ‘M. sp. 2’ was represented by collections in California, USA. Environmental factors driving the contrasting distribution patterns in this group remain unknown. Divergence times estimated using a coalescence-based multilocus species-tree approach suggest that diversification within the M. fuliginosa/M. glabratula group occurred exclusively during the Miocene. The results of the present study indicate that phenotypically cryptic lichen-forming fungal species-level lineages may be relatively ancient and do not necessarily reflect recent divergence events. Furthermore, diagnosable phenotypic differences may be absent even millions of years after the initial divergence. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, ●●, ●●–●●.